Doncaster Rovers keep season alive after penalty shoot-out EFL Trophy win over Wigan Athletic - to set up quarter-final with Bradford City

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On a bitterly cold mid-January night in front of a sparse, freezing crowd, Doncaster Rovers kept their competitive fires burning in 2023-24 on a significant occasion.

For once, in a pretty luckless season thus far, fortune was smiling on Grant McCann’s side, who secured a quarter-final place after holding their nerve to triumph in a penalty shoot-out.

Joe Ironside, Ben Close, Owen Bailey - who had earlier put the hosts on terms in the 70th minute to cancel out Wigan’s early opener - and Kyle Hurst all converted for Rovers, while Charles Hughes and Jordan Jones missed for Wigan, who bowed out 4-2 after the tie ended 1-1 after 90 minutes.

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The final act came from Rovers keeper Louis Jones, who kept out his namesake’s spot-kick. With the final kick of the game in stoppage time, the Thorne lad had made an equally key late save to deny Hughes.

Louis Jones saves the penalty to put Rovers into the next round. Picture: Howard Roe/AHPIX.comLouis Jones saves the penalty to put Rovers into the next round. Picture: Howard Roe/
Louis Jones saves the penalty to put Rovers into the next round. Picture: Howard Roe/

There was some rub of the green for Rovers in the spot-kick as well, with Hurst’s effort squirming underneath Latics keeper Ben Amos and just over the line.

Amid a tough season for the club, this sort of thing can go a long way. They now face Bradford City in the last night with both clubs just two wins away from Wembley - not to be sniffed at, given both their experiences in 23-24.

After Blue Monday, Rovers - cruelly beaten in stoppage-time at home on Saturday - here was Red Tuesday.

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Rovers did things the hard way - coming from behind after former Bradford striker Charlie Wyke’s early opener, courtesy of some charitable defending.

After a rusty start, the hosts - pepped up by Luke Molyneux - found their feet.

Their second half efforts were hearty and Bailey’s first goal for the club in his 38th appearance - restored parity with a cracking header than any centre-forward would have been proud of.

The ‘first half’ of the opening 45 minutes did not paint Rovers - who handed a full debut to Conor Carty - in a particularly good light again and they looked what their recent statistics have pointed towards, a side grappling with form issues and adequate decision-making.

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That was reinforced by a cheap concession that was always going to be meat and drink to a seasoned targetman such as Wyke.

Former Sheffield Wednesday midfielder Sean Clare produced a cross which was on the money to be fair from the right, but the hosts’ failure to deal with Wyke was rather more reprehensible with the burly frontman powerfully heading in his eighth goal of the season in comfort and splendid isolation

Neither centre defender took care of him while Jones stayed rooted to his line. It added to Rovers’ litany of soft concessions from crosses this term.

Wigan boss Shaun Mahoney - whose side had been in FA Cup action eight days earlier at home to Manchester United - pledged to go strong with his line-up and proved as good as his word.

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For the opening 25 minutes, they had the measure of Rovers and looked what they are; a team operating at a division above.

The exasperation of McCann in his technical area at certain aspects of Rovers play was plain to see. To be fair to his players, they had more of a say as the half progressed and had at least one offensive weapon in Molyneux.

On his day, the mercurial winger brings gifts to the table. As he did shortly before the interval when he controlled the ball in brilliant fashion before surging forward and seeing his angled shot flash inches wide.

It was the best of Molyneux encapsulated in about ten seconds. If that had gone in, it would have been a goal of the season contender.

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Earlier, the former Hartlepool player ghosted into the box and hit a crisp volley just over from Kyle Hurst’s centre, while Owen Bailey was not far away with a long-ranger.

After Wyke’s soother, Wigan - with ex-Rovers loanee Matt Smith pulling the strings - passed the ball nicely at times, with Wyke bundling one close-range effort just off target while Jonny Smith saw a strike parried by Jones.

Rovers stuck in at least, with some jeers from home punters in the East Stand, the only stand open, a little bit harsh in truth - although you wondered how long McCann would wait before introducing top-scorer Ironside.

One nice early move saw Carty just fail to get a decisive touch in front of goal following a dangerous cross from Kyle Hurst on the left.

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Ironside eventually arrived to give Rovers a welcome aerial outlet, although it was Jay McGrath who would go close, glancing a header just wide from Ben Close’s swinging free-kick.

Bailey showed how it was done not long after with a thumping header to put Rovers on terms following excellent play down the right from that man Molyneux.

The maxim that you are never more vulnerable than when you have just scored almost applied soon after when Rovers were caught on the break, but fortunately Latics’ player Jonny Smith fired just off target.

Another scare saw substitute Stephen Humphrys slalom past several challenges before Rovers frantically cleared the danger.

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Hughes nearly won it with the last kick of the game for Wigan, but for Jones. Rovers deserved penalties and have now kept their season going in the process.

Doncaster Rovers: L Jones; Nixon, Olowu, McGrath, Rowe; Bailey, Close; Molyneux, Broadbent (Ironside 62), Hurst; Carty (Taylor 82). Unused substitutes: Bottomley, Faulkner, Goodman, Flint, Straughan-Brown.

Wigan Athletic: Amos; Hughes, Kerr, Robinson; Clare, Adeeko, M Smith (Shaw 63), McManaman (J Jones 63); J Smith (Magennis 73), Aasgaard, Wyke (Humphrys 62). Unused substitutes: Tickle, Morrison, Rekik.

Referee: O Yates (Staffs).